Hopes and fears
We sing about them in our Christmas carols – but they are very much part of the stuff of life in the Easter season too...both for the apostles, as they struggled to make sense of the wild rumours that abounded on that first Easter day, and for we who come after.
Both, of course, are present in our readings this morning – but they are also present in the life of our nation as we look towards the coming election, and perhaps they are there in the life of this Cathedral community too, with the AGM ahead.
Reflecting on the gospel, it seems at first as if hope has been utterly banished.
The doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews...
Things are pretty bad if you are so afraid of your own people that you are hiding behind closed doors – but the events of that extraordinary Passover festival have certainly left the disciples with a sense that nobody could be counted on.
They have seen one of their own number betray Jesus, and are painfully aware that none of them, not one, has really measured up to the ideals of loyal friendship they might have aspired to. This feels like a community that has failed to be true to itself – and one that has also failed in its relationship with those outside.
Not a lot of room for hope, then, as the disciples look inwards caught up in and overwhelmed by their own sense of despair and defeat, united only in their misery.
A fellowship of failure.
And then, suddenly, Jesus shows up – and as so often happens, his arrival changes everything.
Where there was fear and distress, he brings his peace and a joy that the disciples had thought never to experience again.
“Peace be with you...”
Put yourself there for a moment.
Imagine that you carry that burden of guilt and failure that so weighed down the beleaguered group huddled in the upper room.
You ran away in Gethesemane.
You were too fearful to stand at the foot of the cross.
And imagine that Jesus comes to you – to YOU – knowing how you've let him down – with not one word of reproach or disappointment.
Instead, he speaks peace – so convincingly that you lose all urge to apologise or justify yourself.
You simply bask in the joy of his presence – and find new strength and new hope in that moment.
Suddenly that group, on the verge of imploding, with each individual going his separate way, back to the old order that had once seemed enough, -
Suddenly that heartbroken, disintegrating community is reborn.
PEACE be with you...
The peace of God's presence...Shalom – more than peace of heart and mind, more even than an end to conflict in a warring world...as Tom Wright puts it “rich and fruitful human living, God's new creation bursting into many coloured flower”
And with that word everything is transformed – and a new fellowship is created and commissioned
“As the Father has sent me, so I send you....Receive the Holy Spirit”
While Luke will thrill us in a few short weeks with his account of rushing mighty winds and extraordinary life-changing preaching on the feast of Pentecost, this quieter moment is no less one of radical transformation.
As God breathed life into clay at creation, so Jesus breathes resurrection life into the disciples – and they are changed from a group gathered to learn, to one commissioned and sent out – no longer disciples but apostles. They learn for themselves the essential message that God's love is always greater, always stronger than our failure...
And isn't it wonderful that the first gift of the Spirit that Jesus mentions to them is that of forgiveness – for it is, undoubtedly, the one that they are at that moment most conscious of both needing and receiving....Now they too can forgive in God's name, can themselves become both reconciled and reconciling people in this new world order.
A fellowship on the verge of dissolution is reformed and re-invigorated...once again, love changes everything
This is what it means to be the Church – the people who know themselves reconciled with God through the transforming love of Jesus – and who go on to live in a new way that speaks of reconciliation beyond any imaginings.
And, of course, at the moment we have freedom to imagine on a grand scale. We have the privilege of helping to shape the society we live in, - and aspects of Cathedral life as well..To dream dreams, but also to help to make them reality.
Last week a friend sent me a Facebook link to a site that enabled me to compare the main elements of each party's manifesto on the topics closest to my heart without knowing which party's policies I was viewing – and at the end told me how I should vote. I'm not going to tell you the results nor suggest where you should plant your X – though I will say that I'm absolutely sure that it is the duty of anyone who HAS a vote to use it, prayerfully, thoughtfully, wisely...
I was, though, struck by just how utopian some of the policies were – and how very hopeful they made me feel.
Almost as hopeful, in fact, as the picture of community presented in Acts 4.
Wouldn't you like to be part of a group that was “of one heart and soul”, to live somewhere where
“There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold...and it was distributed to each as any had need”? Wouldn't that be truly wonderful...?
Of course, it was deeply shocking at the time, for it flies in the face of the Jewish custom and of the Torah itself...to sell your inheritance and share the proceeds was not an early version of Communism but a change of direction away from a culture that was forged by strong emphasis on the inheritance, in lore and custom as in property, of the Jews as God's people. This radical departure was one more sign of a new world order, more evidence that in this time of transformation undreamed of possibilities would come to pass.
And we – we are the inheritors of that new way of being.
Though experience shows that even the most high minded and well-intentioned politicians are likely to let us down on some things – and that our own faltering attempts to be a community here in this place are a far far cry from the heady days of Acts 4...nonetheless– we are an Easter people and alleluia is our song.
So let us sing it today – but let us live it as well. Let us dare to dream that “Cathedral Community” might become something more than a label...That we might so live our faith that others long to travel with us...might glimpse in this corner of the kingdom the unmistakeable evidence of God's kingdom in our midst.
That we might be transformed and transforming...reconciled and reconciling...
We will fail. Of course we will. But we know that even here, even now, God's love is stronger is stronger than our failure...
so – let us not hide behind closed doors but pray afresh for the power of the Holy Spirit, so that we may reach out to share the Love in which we live and move and have our being.
The Spirit is with us...and the world is waiting.